Book Review: The Book of Books

The Book of Books: The Bible Retold
by Trevor Dennis
Published by Lion
ISBN: 978-0-8254-7867-3
480 Pages
$16.99

Read an excerpt of the book here. Purchase the book from the here.

Who is this book for: People familiar with the biblical narrative
Who is this book not for: People who are unfamiliar with the biblical narrative and might confuse his historical background and interpretive storytelling as being from the actual biblical text.

Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars

Review:

I was really excited to receive this book from Kregel for the purpose of review. I was hoping that it would be a great way for me to engage the biblical stories with my children (even if not now, but sometime when they are older). It is a hardbound book without a dustjacket (which is the only way they should make hardback books in my opinion), and is well made which means that this book will be around for a long time. These are all things that I have not found in many other "story Bibles" that I have looked at as both a parent and minister/teacher. In this regard 5/5 stars.

But then I started to read the book.

Dennis has set himself up with a difficult task. His goal is to both retell the story, to fill in some gaps (where he thinks it helps the story), and to engage with history (both in context... here's what happened leading up to this story and in the history of "tradition" which I will say more about momentarily). This is no easy goal.

Each section of the larger metanarrative begins with a short introduction/explanation that is clearly set off from the section of narratives itself. In the back of the book Dennis lists the texts that informed the story that he has told. For example, in his story, Songs of Light he cites in the Scripture references the texts of Psalm 23 and 121. This is both helpful if you want to read more, and sometimes frustrating when you read the story as he told it.

This book is written for and in the language of our friends in the United Kingdom and so there are a number of idioms that would be especially hard for kids. Here are some examples of what I am saying:

  • Goliath is "two meteres" tall.
  • It was shocking that Jesus went traveled through Samaria because Jews and Samaritans "didn't get on".

Dennis also blurs the lines of historical context, history of interpretation, and some quirky and unexplained interpretive moves throughout the book without explanation or with significant confusion added to the nature and shape of the narrative. For example...

  • Goliath is struck not in the forehead but in the knee. It is not because David has rendered Goliath unconscious or dead with his blow but has delivered a painful blow along with the sheer weight of Goliath's armor that David is able (seemingly without struggle from Goliath) to unsheath (!!) his sword and cut off his head. (And you thought the biblical narrative was hard to swallow!)
  • In his story telling of the Last Supper he cites at the beginning of the story that this account is taken from all four Gospels. The problem is that John does not tell of the Last Supper (at least not as related to the Passover). Another interpretive move that (at least for me) is a little "fast and loose" with the text.
  • In the story of the woman at the well, later Christians named this woman Photina. After telling this in the beginning of the story, Dennis goes on (with great embellishment and addition) to tell the narrative of Photina (as if the text really gave her that name). Not only this but he takes much of the historical background about the animosity between the Jews and Samaritans (drawing especially from Josephus) and incorporates it into the story.

In all of these cases (and there are others) it is hard to tell the line between the biblical narrative and the additional parts (whether historical, traditional, or from the author) of the story. This might well make for a refreshing read for those who are familiar with both the biblical narrative as well as the historical context and history of interpretation around these stories.

But I wouldn't read it to my kids.

All in all, this may be a resource you would enjoy to find ways to more dramatically tell the major stories of Scripture (especially to adults). I imagine that I will at times look to The Book of Books for creative ways to engage these narratives in preaching. But it seems to me that engaging these stories as they are told in this book with people who are new or unfamiliar with the narratives would just not be a good idea. In that case a cheesy picture Bible might actually be better.

If you know the stories well, or are looking for fresh ways to tell them, check out The Book of Books. If this isn't you or what you need in a retelling of the major stories of Scripture... stick with the Good Book itself.